E3 and the state of things I
The Final phase of our plan has begun; Release the Laser-Shark-Bees! (By Robert Bruce)
The first thoughts I had after roaming the floors of E3, were toward the bafflingly huge booths dedicated to social gaming and mobile gaming companies. These companies must be making a fairly sizable profit to be able to afford the large swathe of floor space on the E3 floor. The other thing I noticed was how small the big game prod companies booths were in comparison to years before.
EA’s booth was the most anemic, and their primary game push was Madden; along with some other EA sports titles. Other than a DOTA-esque Lord of the Rings game, that was it, really for EA. (Edit; thanks to Chris for pointing out the inaccuracy) They were also showcasing Dead Space 3, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to check it out; the line was intense for this one, however my point stands that in years past there was a larger section for EA, with more unique titles. Activision was focusing on Skylanders, which is smart cause that’s a cash cow that keeps on giving. Also, obviously they were focusing on Black Ops 2, because that is the game people seem to buy in their sleep. Spiderman 15: the reckoning 2 (not sure of the current title) was somewhere in there as well, but I wasn’t interested. Nintendo and Sony’s booths were about as large as ever, with a plethora of play-ables. I had the most fun in these sections.
I got a feel for the possible promise of a Vita system, but after the glow of the show wore off, my cynicism returned. I gotta’ say the two coolest things I saw at the Sony area were 3rd party, small time developments –or semi-small time in the case of the Portal Expansion. Retro City Rampage, one of the two, has that poise to blast off in a big way. The polish and detail on that game was so intense, and the people I talked to about the game seemed like some of the most sincere guys; which if you don’t know is a sentiment that’s slowly disappearing at E3. You can switch the view mode to CGA guis!- also a game boy view mode, replete with the vomit grey and green that was so signature of that system. That is dedication to old-school-ness that really should be a legend in the making. The game -unlike many lip-service old school motif games- really tries to capture the feel of a game from that era, with a little bit of the sensibility of this era. Pure fun, that’s all I gotta’ say. If you want to see more about this game, check it out here.
I also got to check out the new Portal Move based expansion “Portal 2 In Motion”, and I got the same feeling from the guy I talked to as I did with Retro City. You guys might have seen a Kotaku video with him as the speaker for the game, and again I got the feeling of sincerity from him. He was in the industry to make awesome game experiences. He talked a little about what it’s like to work with Valve. His one word description was “tough”, which he later went on to quantify by saying Valve had high standards and a very clear concept of design, feel, etc. about their much loved baby “Portal”. He had nothing but respect for their dedication to excellence, and I gotta agree the proof is in the pudding. My experience at Activision gave me a look into what it is like to be on the opposite end of the gaming spectrum, that of comsumite mediocrity and lack of care in the extreme, but enough belly-aching; I’m not bitter, I’m better. Take a look at some trailers of game play here to get an idea of what I’m talking about. The game showed what the move could be for users; unfortunately I am not sure if that game alone can push the move, but it certainly got me thinking about it. Epic Mickey 2 and Dust 514 also had move capability being showcased, but with those games –both exciting prospects on their own- the move looked to be more of an afterthought.
Sony was showcasing some other Vita stuff, but much of it was multi-platform; which is kind of shooting themselves in the foot if you ask me. Jet Set Radio, the smash bros. rip-off, and some other games like lego batman two, aren’t gonna’ move Vitas when you can get them on the PS3, where undoubtedly more love has been put into them. The only exclusive to the Vita that I was interested in was the Assasin’s Creed 3: Liberation, a parallel release to AC3. But I’m not sure that it will alone make that purchase worthwhile, and with no price drop on the horizon, I’m not so sure. Also, I may have missed it but I didn’t see it on the floor. If someone saw this first hand feel free to comment.
With this and every E3 the pessimist in me says, “just another year of ripoffs, knockoffs and sequals”; but I don’t know if that’s the correct read of the situation. If I think back to other years its never really been that different. This is simply how gaming has been for at least 2 console generations, or so. But what has changed this year? Mobile/ social gaming is a powerhouse, and “mainstream” console games are collectively cooling their jets. The word of the day is not simply casual, but small. Small indie games, small xbox live games, small online games, small production games like kinect games, small production games like wii U games, small incremental changes to system updates -a la the Wii U. The big companies are stepping back from heavy spending in R and D; as well as the high cost low turnout gambles on “Core” gaming markets. Let’s face it, the “Core” is fickle. All this to say that things are not “worse”, but nor are they better. I for one look forward to a different perspective to game development, that will present different interesting gaming futures.
To be continued… [in part two I will talk more about Xbox, Nintendo, Ubisoft (the last "Core" gaming beast) and about the Social/ Mobile Game craze]